We'd all suspected a SNES Mini would be announced.
In fact, our sister site Eurogamer told us it would be way back in April. Yet Nintendo managed to surprise us anyway. Amongst the 21 games that will be included with the console, the company is going to include Star Fox 2, a game the firm famously cancelled right at the end of the SNES' life in 1995.
The story of Star Fox 2 is a sad one, and one told by another of our sister sites, Nintendolife. The game was being developed by UK studio Argonaut Games, and was cancelled when it was 95% complete. The Sega Saturn and PlayStation 1 were already on the market at this point, and Nintendo feared that unfavourable comparisons would be made between what Sony and Sega were offering, and what Argonaut were able to squeeze out of the ageing SNES hardware.
"Well, the PS1 was the next generation of hardware and quite a leap above the SNES, being five years or so later, even with the FX chip," Dylan Cuthbert tells GamesIndustry.biz. Cuthbert was a key part of the team that worked on the original game back in 1995.
"Nintendo was a little sensitive to the competition with Sega and Sony, and so made the strategic decision not to give the public a chance to compare. I think it was a sensible decision to be brutally honest."
Despite the cancellation, Nintendo did ask Argonaut to finish the game, and it was even sent through QA. It may seem like a redundant process, but Cuthbert suspects that Nintendo was keeping the game in its back pocket, for a moment such as this.
"I think Nintendo decided there might be a strategy for it in the future... and guess what? There is," he says. "That's some serious future planning right there. Lesser companies can't find their data for games they made even ten years ago, but Nintendo properly archived the work and that's awesome for all of us."
"Lesser companies can't find their data for games they made even ten years ago, but Nintendo properly archived the work and that's awesome for all of us."
With the cancellation of Star Fox 2, Nintendo decided to build an N64 version of the original game internally [Star Fox 64, or Lylat Wars for us in Europe]. The relationship with Argonaut was over, and so was Cuthbert's association with the franchise, at least for a little while.
"Nintendo started work immediately on Star Fox 64 following the cancellation," he recalls. "The problem with Star Fox 2 is that the contract with Argonaut was over and Star Fox 2 fell under that contract, oh and they had a non-poaching agreement with Argonaut which meant I couldn't stay on in Japan, so I started looking around and found a job with Sony in America."
Despite the disappointment, Cuthbert says that developing Star Fox 2 wasn't a complete waste of time.
"It kind of taught me that the everyday is just as important as getting a game shipped," he explains. "Make sure you enjoy yourself while you are making a game, because then if something happens and the game fails or doesn't get released or whatever, you know you learned a lot during the making of it, and had a laugh while doing it, too."
There was a happy ending to the story, at least for Cuthbert. He set up his own studio in 2001 called Q-Games (now best known for the PixelJunk series), and in 2006 he was invited to build a new Star Fox game: Star Fox Command on Nintendo DS. Nintendo even encouraged him to look at Star Fox 2 during development.
"Nintendo provided us with the mastered ROM for research and it was very helpful," Cuthbert says. "I think the biggest new feature is the randomized replay system of the game. Every time you play you get a new adventure and sequence of encounters, a little like a rogue-like, which we see a lot more of in this day and age but back then it was pretty rare."
Even with the release of Command, the return of Star Fox 2 is something that Cuthbert was eager to see happen. And he was as surprised as the rest of us when the announcement came from Nintendo yesterday.
"I didn't know about it at all," he insists. "We don't have any work happening with Nintendo right now so there wouldn't have been an NDA-safe way of letting me know anyway. On the other hand, I got to have a big awesome surprise like everyone else so I'm quite happy about that."
He adds: "It's an absolutely awesome feeling. Incredible really. Perhaps a first in the games industry even."
Star Fox 2 taps into the wider nostalgia trend in games. What started in the indie and Kickstarter scenes, has now expanded to the biggest companies in games. Sega has just announced planes to re-release many of its classic games on smartphones, and next week sees the return of Crash Bandicoot from Activision. Publishers seem to be showing confidence that it can dip back into their archives and see real success.
"I hope so," Cuthbert concludes. "The English version of X for Gameboy next please [Argonaut's other project with Nintendo, that was deemed too complex to be released outside of Japan].
"Oh and Sony, release Pipo Saru 2001 [Ape Escape 2001] in the US too, please. For some reason my luck at getting games released internationally was a bit low back then. It's probably why I started my own games company, so I can control all elements of each game I make and ensure they ship worldwide."